De-worming makes a real-life “slum dog millionaire”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2009:

De-worming makes a real-life “slum dog millionaire”
Commentary by Merritt Clifton

“I walk through Kalhaar daily with my own
two former roadway dogs, so I know all the
street dogs here,” e-mailed Lisa Warden on
August 1, 2009 from the suburbs of Ahmedabad,
“The dog pictured here just turned up
three days ago. I guess it’s safe to say that
he’s one of those who isn’t going to make it,
don’t you think?”
Perceiving emaciated street dogs, cats,
cattle, horses, and donkeys as starving and
irrecoverably suffering is the usual response of
Americans and Europeans to those whose bones
protrude as much as this dog’s did–but I
recognized a different issue.

The problem in such cases is seldom that
the animal is not getting enough food,
especially in the streets of developing nations,
where refuse, rodents, and thriving populations
of street animals typically abound.
Rather, the problem is usually that the
animal is not getting adequate nutrition from the
food due to intestinal worms.
In this case, I had personally done a
dog census in the neighborhood where Warden found
the young dog, in January 2007, and had thereby
verified the abundance and accessibility of food
“He actually looks quite healthy– no
sign of mange, tumors, or serious injury,” I
wrote back. “De-worm and fix the poor mutt and
he’ll probably be just fine. ”
Warden de-wormed him and had him
neutered. Three days later Warden posted video
of the rapidly recovering little dog to YouTube.
On August 8, 2009 Warden posted a second video,
showing the dog playing in a small park in front
of her home and that of her neighbor, Animal
Help founder Rahul Sehgal.
Warden had asked me for advice because
Sehgal was away sterilizing street dogs in
Bhutan, on behalf of the Humane Society
International division of the Humane Society of
the U.S.
In barely more than a week the dog’s protruding ribs had receded.
“Someone in Canada saw him on Rajashree
Khalap’s Indian pariah dog website and wrote me
asking if she could adopt him! So now he’s going
to Canada!” Warden wrote on August 20. By
coincidence, adoptor Sarah O’Neill lives in the
same Ottawa neighborhood where Warden grew up,
but they were not previously acquainted.
Warden meanwhile had written often to
Ahmedabad newspapers in favor of restarting the
Animal Birth Control program that Animal Help
began in 2005, sterilizing 53,000 dogs in two
years before political foes cut off the funding.
Animal Help is now an Animal Birth Control
program service provider in several other cities,
including Bangalore, but no longer operates in
Despite repeated efforts, Warden could
not get her letters published. But she had an
idea about how to remedy that, by prefacing her
message with a compelling true-life story and
before-and-after photos.
On August 21 the Times of India carried
the story of the “Slum Dog Millionaire” she had
rescued and his subsequent adoption on page one.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t cover any of the
substantial points I raised with them about the
issues surrounding street dogs,” Warden
lamented. “I even gave them a media sheet I’d
put together, but no luck. I will approach
someone at a different paper soon about doing a
more serious article.”
On August 28 the Times of India followed
up. Warden’s father and many longtime friends of
ANIMAL PEOPLE in the Ottawa and Montreal areas
sent the Times of India coverage to Canadian
media, knowing that the large and growing
Indo-Canadian community would forward any
coverage back home to India–and would thereby
increase appreciation of Indian street dogs.
Fourteen Canadian newspapers picked up
the “Slum Dog Millionaire” story within the next
three days. It reverberated to India, as
anticipated, and back again. On September 8 the
“Slum Dog Millionaire” made page one of the South
Asian Post, the leading news periodical serving
Indo-Canadians. The South Asian Post led from
the story of the one lucky little dog into a
discussion of Animal Birth Control programs and
dog issues in Delhi, Kolkata, Ludhiana,
Ahmedabad, Chennai, and Mumbai.
Beyond becoming the most famous dog in
both India and Canada, for a few days at least,
the dog had become an ambassador for all his
kind–before even acquiring a permanent name.
And all because Warden de-wormed him.
“I stress the importance of de-worming to
our vets, staff and volunteers, etcetra,”
Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre founder Jan
Salter e-mailed from Nepal, “but have been cried
down on the premise that the dogs go back on the
streets and again pick up worms. I am not a vet,
so sometimes what I consider is just common sense
is not heeded.”
Every street dog is ex-posed to worms,
like every other scavenger and every animal who
eats from the ground. Street dogs often expose
themselves to worms by eating the feces of other
animals. Yet not every scavenging or grazing
animal is debilitated by worms. Dogs are known
to be especially resistant to debilitating worm
“Although nearly all dogs are infested
with parasites at one time or another, most
develop an immunity that keeps worms in check,”
explain James M. Griffin, M.D., and Liisa D.
Carlson, DVM, in the Dog Owner’s Home
Veterinary Handbook. “This immunity can break
down under conditions of stress or ill health.
When that happens, the worms increase in number
and eventually produce signs of intestinal
infection, including diarrhea, weight loss,
anemia, and blood in the feces.”
Among the most intensely stressed and
therefore vulnerable street dogs are juvenile
pups who have just been weaned.
Parasitologists have recently recognized
that healthy street dogs, like other wild
carnviores and non-human primates, keep worms
under control to some extent by eating grass.
Explained Cindy Engel in Wild Health: How
Animals Keep Themselves Well & What We Can Learn
From Them (2002):
“Grass seems to have two effects. One is
emetic, stimulating regurgitation or vomiting.
The other is a purgative scour, ridding the body
of worms farther down the intestine. Thus grass
could work at either end of the intestine,
depending on which orifice is nearest to the
Noted Engel, “Herbalist Maurice
Mess├ęgue,” author of numerous books on the
healing properties of plants, “claims that some
dog species discriminate between different
grasses for different medicinal functions, using
hairy grasses for emetics and couch grass as a
Benjamin L. Hart, DVM and colleagues at
the University of California at Davis School of
Veterinary Medicine presented further findings at
the 2008 Central Veterinary Conference in San
“Although the prevalence of plant eating
in domestic dogs and cats has not been
documented,” Hart opened, “wild canids and
felids in nature are known to eat grass and
plants-plant material has been found in 2% to 74%
of scats and stomach content samples of wolves
and cougars…One explanation,” Hart et al
finished, after reviewing and rejecting other
theories, “is that plant eating played a role in
the ongoing purging of intestinal parasites
(nematodes) in wild canid and felid ancestors who
were always exposed to intestinal parasites. As
observed in wild chimpanzees, who eat whole
leaves from a variety of plants, the plant
material passes through the intestinal tract,
increasing intestinal motility and wrapping
around worms and thereby purging the tract of
intestinal nematodes.”
Many animals, including street dogs,
also control external parasites to some extent by
such activities as dust-bathing, swimming, and
But whatever help these behaviors provide
to otherwise healthy animals, a stressed animal
may be attacked simultaneously by multiple
parasites, including worms, mange, ticks,
fleas, and fungal, bacterial, and viral
infections. The effects of each parasite
increase the animal’s vulnerability to others.
Thus worm control is an essential part of any
sort of effective animal health care.
This is no new observation. It is part
of Ayurvedic medical teaching, which includes
recommendations of herbal oils that have been
given to dogs and other animals since ancient
times, to deworm them, fight mange, and keep
their coats healthy.
Giving dogs and cats an occasional dose
of an edible oil to keep their fur shiny is also
part of the western pet-keeping tradition.
Recalled Salter, “Our in-house dog Lucy,
whom we often mention in our blurbs, had
extremely bad mange. For years every volunteer
vet we had tried to treat it. Lucy would improve
for a while, but continued to have outbreaks,
and always had a nasty mousey smell, until a
volunteer vet from the Ukraine came a year ago
and treated her with mustard oil. It not only
did the trick at the time; she has not had an
outbreak since. And the smell is gone.”
Mustard oil is a natural fungicide. In
Lucy’s case, the mustard oil may have killed a
persistent fungus that infected her after the
severe mange made her vulnerable.

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